Marketing automation — evil or misunderstood?

marketing automationWhen the subject of marketing automation comes up, many purists shake their head and talk about how robotic and impersonal it is.  Well — if you do it badly, that’s very true.

In that case — you really do make your potential customers feel like they’re just a number to you and that you treat everyone the same, with little regard to their specific needs.

But when you build the system with your customer in mind — it can be a wonderful experience for them and for you.

It all depends on if you build it once and put it on auto pilot or if you use it as a tool to serve up exactly what each visitor is looking for.

Automation allows you to create a user experience that puts the user in the driver’s seat. They can access the exact information they want, when they want it — and how they want it.  The key is to realize that different people are going to have different needs and you need to anticipate that as you build out the options.  Even more important — once you start getting visitors, you need to learn from where they go and don’t want to go.

It’s a given that every potential customer probably isn’t going to want exactly the same information.  As you watch and learn — you can create new paths and test the results.  At the end of the day, thanks to automation, you can create multiple paths, so each person can have a different experience, based on their own needs and interests.

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Recently, the folks at Marketo asked me to comment on the question “can big data lead to big love?” Check out the article and my comments.

If you’re using marketing automation to make it easy for you and only you, then it probably isn’t going to work so well.  But if you use it as a tool to serve your customers better — it can indeed lead to big love.

Building a website your users will love

website your users will loveIt seems like a “duh,” doesn’t it?  Of course you want to build a website your users will love.

But remember, not that long ago, many businesses were wondering whether or not they even needed a website.

It seemed so far-fetched that any of their customers would ever do anything but show up at their store or pick up the phone to place an order.

How quickly times change. Now, a business isn’t considered legitimate until they have a web presence.  No matter what it is you sell, odds are your prospects are going to visit your website to decide if you’re even in the running.

I’m hard pressed to think of an industry or business category that doesn’t rely on their website as the main workhorse in their marketing arsenal.

It used to be that you had an opportunity to make the sale when someone walked into your retail location, your salesperson called on the buyer or you answered your phone.  But today, a good portion of the sales process has nothing to do with you actively engaging with the potential buyer.  They’re doing a great deal of their due diligence tire kicking without you being in the room at all.

It’s happening on your website, within social networks and with the help of a Google search.

Which makes what you put out on the web absolutely vital to your business’ success. You must build a website your users will love.

All of that being said – most websites stink.  They’re badly designed, built for the business’ ego rather than the customer’s utility and they’re out of date.

Why?  I think most businesses think of their website like an ever expanding junk drawer.  They just keep tossing more stuff in there and hope that when someone rummages through it – they can find what they need.

If you’d like your website to be the effective workhorse you need it to be, consider these best practices:

It should be an experience: Keep in mind that many people will decide whether or not to do business with you based on their web visit.  So you want them to have a memorable and enjoyable experience.   Get them interacting with you – give them a quiz, help them find answers to their specific questions or offer them something they might want to share with others.

In addition:

  • Let your company’s personality be a part of the site — both in design and voice
  • Simple navigation matters – make it intuitive
  • Remember eye flow – give them plenty of white space and eye rest

Don’t talk about yourself: Talk about their world and how you can improve it.  Everything should be presented from their perspective, not yours. You might need an outside perspective to help you identify what truly matters to your audience.

In addition:

  • Don’t over share – think hors’ oeuvres, not a six course meal
  • Start at the 101 level — not every visitor will already be an expert
  • Leave them wanting more so they call or send an email
  • Keep the content fresh – stale content does not sell
  • Cascade your content – start with a little and then let them choose to drill down for more if they want it

Make it easy, no matter the device: Don’t assume everyone is using a 15-inch screen.  Within the next couple years, the majority of web searches will be conducted on a mobile phone. Check your site on desktops, laptops, tablets and smart phones because if there’s one thing your users will love is being able to access your content no matter where they are.

In addition:

  • Pay attention to page placement — your most important content should be above the fold
  • Give them more than one way to navigate
  • Use landing pages to help diverse audiences get where they want to go

Don’t let a mediocre website discourage prospects from becoming customers before they even shake your hand. If you haven’t already done it — start tomorrow.  Build a website your users will love and share and best of all — buy from.

Is your website sales funnel-shaped?

Website Sales FunnelThere’s always a lot of buzz about SEO (search engine optimization), SEM (search engine marketing) and of course, Google rankings.

Rightly so – each of those plays a role in how effectively your website can serve you from a marketing and sales perspective. Your website should be sales funnel shaped.

But I think most companies approach the web a little like the fable about the five blind men who were asked to describe the elephant that stood before them. The man who was near the elephant’s leg reached out, touched the elephant and announced that an elephant was like a huge tree trunk. The man who was by the tail, after feeling it, described an elephant like a bullwhip and so on.

While none of them were wrong – none of them were right either. That’s exactly where many companies are when they think about how to leverage their website. They’re not wrong but they haven’t got it quite right either.

Lets step back and take a more holistic view of the website’s purpose for being. You might have a website because it:

  • Gives you credibility – it proves that you’re real
  • Tells the visitor what your company is all about and why you exist
  • Lists/show what you sell/do
  • Educates your prospect on how you are different from your competitors and help them make an more informed buying decision
  • Helps your customers and prospects by making them smarter/better in some way
  • Is an information repository so your customers can access things like users manuals, support forums, case studies, testimonials or other forms of thought leadership
  • Provides ways to start a conversation, ask a question or give you feedback
  • May serve as a shopping portal and people can buy right there

But if we step back even a little further and take a look from the 30,000 foot level, we can see through all those functionalities, your website is the entry point to your sales funnel. For most organizations today — your website is the initial point of entry that could lead to a sale today or five years from today.

That doesn’t happen by accident. Getting them to your site isn’t the end of the game; it’s just the beginning. Now your goal is to move them into and through your sales funnel. You have to build your site and everything that happens on it with that intention.

Whenever I think of a sales funnel, I picture one of those plastic funnels people use when they do an oil change. The top of it is really wide and the bottom is a very skinny hole. The funnel coincides with the know • like • trust equation.

The top of the sales funnel – know

The top of the funnel is for catching all those people who have no idea you exist or that you sell anything they might need or want. This is where you are hoping they’ll get to know you.

The middle of the funnel is filled with all the ways you either keep them on your site or get them to come back. With repeated exposure, you’re hoping they’ll come to like you.

The smallest section of the funnel is where you’re hoping they come to trust you through repeated interactions, you continuing to be helpful and demonstrating a consistency in how you talk, behave and perform.

Once they’ve willingly squeezed themselves through that tiny little section of the funnel, they’ll be ready to buy. But not before.

Let’s look at the first stage of the funnel (know) and what you can do to catch the interest of your web visitors and encourage them to get to know you a little.

At the top of the funnel we have people who’ve never heard of you and may have no idea they need or want what you sell. They might discover you by clicking on a link in a blog post or after reading about you in the newspaper. They might have a problem and be Googling to find a solution and your site is listed in their search results. They may see a Facebook ad or type in your URL off your business card that they picked up at a trade show. But at this point, you’re a stranger. They don’t know, like or trust you. And we know we have to earn their trust before we can earn their money.

At that moment, your website has to be helpful or relevant enough in some way that they spend a little time on it so they begin to get a sense of you and how you might matter to them.

This is a do or die moment. If the visitor pokes around the site and then leaves, they might never return and you’ll never know who they were or if you could have served them. That’s how it works on most websites. If I asked you to show me a list of people who were on your website in the last six months, could you do it?

One of the appealing aspects of using the web to pre-shop is the anonymity of it. To get someone to introduce themselves to you — you have to either give them a compelling reason to keep coming back or better yet, you have to create the opportunity for an information exchange. You have to offer them something that is valuable enough that they’ll give you their email address in return. While it sounds simple – think of how many websites you visit and how few capture your contact information.

What does that look like? You want to offer something that’s a low barrier to entry. It doesn’t feel too intrusive. It could be any of these:

  • Sign up for our Enewsletter or regular tips
  • Get a copy of a how-to report, whitepaper or cheat sheet
  • Take an online course via email
  • Get access to unique content behind a firewall
  • Join a discussion group/closed forum
  • Be notified when new content/information is available
  • Download an eBook or watch a short video series
  • Sign up for a webinar or phone conference

Once you’ve done made that initial connection and you have a way to stay in touch – you can continue to be helpful which will keep the conversation going. At that point, one of two things is going to happen. As they get to know you/your company – they’re either going to decide they like you or they don’t. Both are great outcomes.

If they like you, they’ll stay in the conversation and get to know you even better. If they don’t like you, they’ll go away. Now you don’t have to waste any energy on someone who was going to be a bad fit.

The middle section of the sales funnel – like

To move someone from the start of the process into this section requires a mix of bravery and generosity on your part.

Keep in mind that most prospects are pretty skittish. Whether it’s in a retail store or online, they’re used to being chased around by over eager salespeople that pester the poor potential buyer until they flee. That’s one of the reasons many people do a significant amount of their shopping online. The anonymity allows them to browse without pressure.

That’s why you want to load up your website with lots of content that has no barrier to consumption like blog posts, testimonials and FAQs. Those elements will generate traffic to your site. The strategies we talked about last week – where there is an exchange of information (their email address for some downloadable tool or content) begins to thin the herd. The tire kickers will avoid the opt-in level, preferring to stick with your free content. And that’s fine. Until they move to the next level, they’re not ready to buy. Once they trade you their email address for some content, they’ve indicated that they are open to hearing from you.

I find it hard to believe I have to actually say this but I’ve seen time and time again that I do. There is absolutely no reason to collect email addresses if you aren’t going to actually send them something.

And that something cannot be a sales pitch. I’ve seen so many businesses stumble here. They didn’t give you their email address so you could hard sell them or immediately try to get an appointment or schedule a sales call. They gave it to you so you would keep sending them information that’s valuable to them.

That is your litmus test. Each and every time, before you hit send, ask yourself “is this going to be valuable to my audience?” Time for a re-write if your honest answer is no.

Assuming you keep producing helpful content and you actually send it out consistently – the prospects will let you stay in their in box. Week (or month or quarter) after week, you’re there. You’re teaching, helping and they are getting a little smarter and a little more comfortable with you each time they hear from you.

You should also use those regular emails (or however you decide to connect with them) to drive them back to new content/offerings on the website. Maybe you produced a demo video series or you’re hosting an educational event that you’d like them to register for.

While we are focusing on your website, it certainly shouldn’t be the only tool in your toolbox. Your sales funnel should be armed with both digital and traditional tactics. They work together hand in glove, each strengthening the other.

The days of your website just being an online brochure are long gone. Be sure your web presence is the sales workhorse it should be by building a sales funnel around the know • like • trust = sales equation.

The last section of the sales funnel – trust

Having the right timing matters. You don’t get to this part of the funnel after the first couple interactions. If I see one consistent mistake, it’s that people shift into these sorts of strategy way too early. It’s like meeting someone in a bar and proposing the same night. Odds are you aren’t going to get too many yeses.

I totally get it from a business’ point of view and have often felt that frustration myself. You’ve shared your expertise. You’ve answered their questions. Surely they should be ready to buy by now. They obviously like what you do enough to keep coming back. So why aren’t they buying?

In my thirty years of being in business, I’ve rarely met a buyer who is as anxious to make the sale as the seller. Sure, there are those customers who come to us in crisis, and we scramble to put out their fire but they’re not the norm. So what do we do? We hang in there, and we keep being helpful and we work to stay top of mind until they’re ready to move forward.

The other factor to remember is that while we are the ones who build the sales funnel, it’s the prospect that moves through it and they control the pace and direction. So while one prospect may linger in the getting to know you (remember our know • like • trust = sales model) or growing to like you section for years, another may whip through both of those and be willing to trust you enough for a trial purchase in a matter of a couple visits.

For your website to truly be an effective sales funnel, you need to offer different levels of engagement, so the prospects can move themselves through at their own speed. As we talked about in the last couple columns, that means free content (text and video if possible) and content that you’ll give them for an email trade. But what kinds of things should you have available for those who are ready to consider a purchase?

Believe it or not – one that many companies miss is having contact information on the site. Don’t make me look for your phone number or email address. If you have the capacity, live chat is great. But make sure I can contact you and give me more than one method. If you have a brick and mortar presence, be sure you list your street addresses as well, with a link to one of the mapping sites.

You can also offer the ability to schedule a call, demo or take an assessment that will require you contact them (usually by email) with the results.

Remember that most buyers want to be pretty sure they’re going to buy before they speak to a salesperson or company representative. When they do reach out, they may have some final questions but they’re very close to making a buying decision. Which means you need to be ready to respond quickly once they do trigger that next level of readiness. Test your site and all your internal systems to verify that nothing is going to get in the way of you finally connecting with this potential buyer.

Today’s consumers want to be able to shop us on the web. How well that works for you is completely in your control. Is your site ready?

P.S. I found the great graphic on a SocialFresh blog post.

 

Is it time for a website re-design?

WebsiteDesignIn today’s marketplace, a company’s website is their first impression with prospects. It’s a rare purchase today that doesn’t begin with some sort of research or due diligence. And as consumers (both B2C and B2B) find themselves more time starved and more web savvy – the research tool of choice is often a Google search.

Long before they’ll set an appointment for a consultation or walk into your retail establishment – they’re scoping you out on the web. It makes sense then, that when it comes to your web presence you’d want to put your best foot forward, doesn’t it?

And yet, if you spend any time on the web – you run into a lot of stale, outdated websites. We just launched a new website for a client and his comment was “phew, now I can actually give people our web address again.” They’d ignored their website for so long – they literally weren’t giving people the URL to avoid embarrassment.

When asked, companies say that they don’t update their website because:

  • They don’t have the time to devote to it
  • They don’t have the budget
  • They don’t want to add interactive elements because they don’t have time to maintain them
  • The last redesign was such a painful process, they can’t think of going there again

But letting a stale or static website be your first “how do” to potential customers is more costly than you might imagine.

If you’ve got dated copy or information (many websites make it pretty obvious they haven’t been updated in years…their latest newsletter issue is from 2008 or the last bit of news in their newsroom is from three years ago) what you’re saying to visitors is that you aren’t so hot will follow up and attention to detail.

If your design is tough to navigate (you know…you just keep adding a page here or there, but there’s no organizational structure) you are going to frustrate that potential customer before they can figure out if you have what they want to buy.

Cheaping out by letting your cousin, neighbor or other amateur build your website says that you aren’t a successful business. You don’t have to build the Taj Mahal of websites but you do want something that speaks to your professionalism and functions the way you want it to.

Are you wondering if your website is working as hard for you as it should? See how your site matches up with these stats.

Websites with blogs get 55% more traffic (Are you sharing your expertise and taking advantage of the organic SEO value of that effort?)

Companies who blog get 79% more followers on Twitter (How does your stale website encourage me to connect with you on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and other interactive spots?)

The #1 attribute people want is a websites that is easy to navigate so they can quickly find the exact information they want. They don’t want to have to click 4 times or guess which heading the information is hiding behind.

People want contact information so they can call, write or drop by. This floors me but many companies do not include offline contact options to their web visitors.

Keep the distractions at a minimum. People want to be able to scan your page and figure out what’s there and where to go next. If you pack every bit of space with information, you actually get in their way. Remember, your goal is not to tell them everything so they don’t have to call. Your goal is to tell them enough to make them want to call.

Your website is your introduction to many of your potential customers Is it the way you want to be introduced or is it time to consider a re-do?

 

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The power of we

Today is Blog Action Day*.  What does that mean? It means that thousands of bloggers from over 108 countries will come together today to blog on a single topic.  Ironically — this year’s topic is the power of we.

The essence of Blog Action Day, really.

Each blogger shares his/her own slant on the theme…with the hope that together we can raise the consciousness and the conversation on this one topic.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I am a huge proponent of the power of we.  I believe it should be a marketing staple — in every company’s plan/vision for how to connect with potential customers, employees and their community.

Here are some examples that I can point to that every business could modify/borrow and apply to their own marketing efforts:

Crowdsourcing:  Why create it all yourself when you can work together and do something far greater than any one individual could accomplish?  Together with Gavin Heaton, I have co-edited 3 editions of the Age of Conversation book series.

We brought hundreds of marketing bloggers together and asked each of them to write a single chapter in the books.  Together — we created three books that look at how the digital age is changing marketing and our world.  We also promoted the book together — raising over $40,000 for charities around the world.

Could you create a crowdsourcing project with your best customers?  Or invite prospects to join in too.

Give your audience a voice: Once or twice a year, I survey the readers of this blog and ask them what they’d like to know more about. They literally help me create my editorial calendar.  By creating content that lines up with their needs — I not only provide more value but I am also more likely to retain them as readers.  (And potential clients)

Many businesses are afraid to invite customer opinion because they might hear bad things.  I think that’s crazy.  Far better to hear about it and have a chance to either change it or explain it — than not to know until you lose that customer.  If you’re not surveying your best customers every year — you need to.  If you aren’t sure how to do it — reach out to me and I’ll tell you how we can help.

Partner with someone with different skills/talents: Throughout my career, I’ve worked at huge (Young & Rubicam) agencies and small (my own — Mclellan Marketing Group) and realize that one of the best aspects of being in a small agency is that we can’t do everything in house. So we have to seek experts to partner with.  That means we are always delivering the highest value to our clients and we’re getting smarter by hanging out with them too.

Identify an area where your business is a little light or your expertise isn’t as deep. Then go find a partner whose skill sets and values compliment what you’re already doing.  You don’t look like you have a deficiency — you look like you are well connected and are committed to bringing excellence to your clients.

I’m curious — how do you employ the power of we in your business?

 

 

 

*Founded in 2007, Blog Action Day brings together bloggers from different countries, interests and languages to blog about one important global topic on the same day. Past topics have included water, climate change, poverty and food with thousands of blogs, big and small, taking part.

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Search versus Social – which one wins?

If you’re wondering which is more potent — search or social media — as is often my answer — it depends.

The truth of the matter is that every organization should be thinking about BOTH because they are the yin and yang for each other.  Each feeds the other side of the equation.  When you write quality content about topics that your audience cares about (social) you attract readers, shares and you earn social proof of your expertise.

That content then begins to influence search for those key words and phrases that exist within your subject area and content (Search) and before you know it, you’re impacting Google and the other search engines — becoming more findable and attracting exactly the right people to your content.

Yin. Yang. The perfect combo. This infographic, developed by MDG Advertising really makes the point.  And should be hanging in your office to remind you to go for the one two punch of social AND search.

 

(Click here to download the full-sized version)

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